Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cherie Chung Week (Bonus): The Story of Woo Viet (1981)

I know I said in the introduction to my second Cherie Chung week that The Story of Woo Viet (1981) had to be removed from the list of titles as the DVD I got in Hong Kong was sans English subtitles.

Well, guess what? I got a copy with English subs!

An enormous THANK YOU to Kenneth from the wonderful So Good Reviews. Seriously, this Cherie Chung junkie thanks you.

Now, on to the film!

From what little research I've done on the web, Hong Kong had a high number of refugees from Vietnam in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1989, the Comprehensive Plan of Action was adopted. Hong Kong had seen a lot of these refugees and the plan was clearly meant by many countries as a way to stop the tide of asylum seekers since the war had been over for quite a few years at this point.

Chow Yun-Fat stars at Wu Yuet (the subtitles identify him this way). Wu Yuet is a refugee from Vietnam who arrives at a refugee camp in Hong Kong. Wu Yuet is a haunted guy due to his service against the Vietcong during the Vietnam War.

In Hong Kong, Wu Yuet looks up his penpal, Lap Quan (Cora Miao), who wants to help him out, as well as possibly look after the young kid who seems to have latched onto the guy.

Soon, Wu Yuet meets Shum Ching (Cherie Chung), another Vietnamese refugee. The pretty girl seems to have settled in Hong Kong faster than Chow Yun-Fat has and the two bond during a Japanese language lesson, the plan being to get to America by posing as Japanese refugees.

It's worth noting some context: in the late 1970s to early 1980s, Hong Kong, like parts of the West, was trying to figure out a way to stem the tide of Vietnamese refugees, then termed "boat people" by some.

Hong Kong adopted various laws to stop the refugees from entering -- methods to refuse any more political refugees -- and so on.

This link provides some background.

Okay, those looking for a realistic sort of film from director Ann Hui will be disappointed with The Story of Woo Viet (1981).

While the film is grim and somewhat naturalistic, it is also full of melodrama -- well-done melodrama, though -- and it's not nearly the sort of thing I expected going into this.

It's also worth noting that while the set-up is among the Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong, the majority of the film takes place in the Philippines.

In the midst of a scheme to get to America with phony passports via the Philippines, the lovely Cherie Chung gets kidnapped and sold into a life as a hooker in a bar in Manila.

In the course of searching for the girl, Chow Yun-Fat hooks up with Lo Lieh, a grizzled hitman for another mobster.

I don't want to diminish Ann Hui's considerable talents as a director but, let's be honest: the film is an action film dressed up as a realistic drama. I mean, The Story of Woo Viet (1981), despite the presentation, is simply another Chow Yun-Fat action film where the lead actor manages to somehow outwit hardened criminals and retain his honor and all that.

It's worth noting that the film, for all its realism, has Ching Siu-Tung on-hand as action choreographer.

The film is quite good and Chow Yun-Fat's lack of expressions -- normally a problem for the actor -- is here a plus; he appears stoic and it fits the story and the character of Wu Yuet.

As for Cherie, it's her job to suffer here. She doesn't have much to do beyond look pretty and she is, clearly. Still, I would rather have had the story told from her perspective.

I think that that film would be a bit more interesting. As it is, The Story of Woo Viet (1981) is thrilling and enjoyable in a way but it's also frustrating in how much it feels like another guys-with-guns melodrama.

This is just the story of two pretty people caught in a horrible situation.

And the viewer is left to just wonder who will make it out alive in the pursuit of freedom in America?

There's a very cynical part of me that thinks perhaps Ann Hui was just using the backdrop of the Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong as a device and nothing more. She sheds little light on the real plight of those people and the film's plot could be about anyone, in a way.

Still, for the era, the film took chances and it's worth seeking out.